Country music singers and their fans are usually considered to be politically conservative. Charlie Daniels, Lee Greenwood, Trace Adkins, Lorrie Morgan and Rodney Atkins all campaigned for either Republican John McCain or Republican Mitt Romney during the past two presidential elections. Many of the lyrics from the genres’ songs reflect beliefs that are widely-considered to be aligned with conservative values, such as Daniels’ “Simple Man,” where, while lamenting his belief that the world has turned its back on the Bible, he advocates punishing drug dealers by hanging them from a tall tree; or dealing with rapists, murderers and child abusers by tying them to a stump and “let the rattlers and the bugs and the alligators do the rest.” Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” released shortly after the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush, resonated with the pro-war crowd with this lyric: “And you’ll be sorry you messed with the U.S. of A., cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.” Keith was also involved in a public feud with Natalie Maines, lead singer of the “Dixie Chicks.” Maines, a Texas native, told a London crowd that she and her band mates were ashamed of being from the same state as Bush after he ordered the Iraqi invasion. That comment led to boycotts of “Dixie Chicks” concerts, as well as their songs being dropped from country-format stations. The feud with Keith began with Maines’ criticism of “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” as being “ignorant.” Keith responded by displaying a picture of Maines’ head on the body of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during his concerts.
Hank Williams Jr. Comments on Fox News Cost him ESPN Job
Hank Williams Jr., lost his gig on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” because of comments he made about President Barack Obama on the Fox News Channel show, “Fox and Friends.” Williams labeled Obama and Vice-president Joe Biden as the “the enemy,” and compared the golf outing Obama had with Speaker of the House John Boehner to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu hitting the links with Adolph Hitler. Williams also called the duo of Obama and Biden the “three stooges.” (Hey, he’s a country musician not a mathematician).
Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver Among Country Singers Who Wrote Progressive Songs
Despite the view of country music being a bastion of conservatism, there have been country songs that, politically, come from a progressive point-of-view. In no particular order, here are ten country songs that can be considered as having a liberal perspective.
- · “Skip a Rope” by Henson Cargil
Although subsequently recorded by many artists–including George Jones and Jimmy Dean-Cargil’s version topped the country charts in 1968. One of country music’s first progressive songs, “Skip a Rope” discusses the impact marital discord has on children as well as racism.
- · “America” by Waylon Jennings
“America” celebrates the USA’s diversity and the decision to allow draft-evaders from the Vietnam War to return home.
- · “Black Rose” by Billy Joe Shaver
This song by the prolific Texas singer-songwriter chronicles a southern white man’s self-struggle with his (at the time) taboo consensual interracial relationship with an African-American woman. Shaver sings: “The devil made me do it the first time, the second time I done it on my own.”
- · “Hillary” by Merle Haggard
Haggard is best-known for the conservative anthems “Fightin’ side of Me,” and “Okie from Muskogee,” (although he would later claim “Okie” was satirical). Haggard wrote “Hillary” as an homage to former first lady Hillary Clinton during her unsuccessful 2008 presidential run. However, “Hillary” wasn’t Haggard’s first song that tested country’s conservative leanings; years before, in 1972, he released “Irma Jackson,” which, like Shaver’s “Black Rose” concerned an interracial relationship between a white man and an African-American women.
- · “Jesse Jackson” by Kris Kristofferson
Best known for penning “Me and Bobby McGee,” Kristofferson not only supported the civil-rights leader’s presidential runs in 1984 and 1988, but he also wrote a song about Jackson that celebrated Jackson’s commitment to achieving racial equality.
- · “We Shall be Free” by Garth Brooks
Released in 1992, Brooks’ “We Shall be Free” envisions a world where hunger, homelessness, greed, religious intolerance, racism, and, in a first for country music, homophobia, no longer exists. One of Brooks’ sisters is gay, and he is clearly supporting her when he sings: “When we’re free to love anyone we choose…we shall be free.”
- · “Man in Black” by Johnny Cash
In “Man in Black,” the country legend decries the plight of the poor, the imprisoned, and the sick and lonely. The song also mourns the loss of soldiers in the Vietnam War.
- · “Conversation with the Devil” by Ray Wylie Hubbard
Released in 1999, the singer of the barroom classic “Redneck Mother” is assured in “Conversation with the Devil,” (by the Devil himself) that “Christian coalition right wing conservatives” do not go to heaven.
- · “We Can’t Make it Here” by James McMurtry
The son of novelist Larry McMurtry, in “We can’t Make it Here,” James McMurtry sings about the neglect the veterans returning from the Gulf War face, manufacturing jobs lost to low-wage countries, teen pregnancy, and the struggles of workers earning the minimum wage.
- · “Long Haired Country Boy” by Charlie Daniels
Yes, that Charlie Daniels. Before he tilted to the right, Daniels, In “Long Haired Country Boy” celebrated getting both stoned and drunk, and excoriated TV preachers for believing, like Jesus, that they could also walk on water. Daniels later told Shawna Ortega from Songfacts.com that he changed the lyrics “I get stoned in the morning, I get drunk in the afternoon,” to “I get up in the morning, I get down in the afternoon” because of his Christian beliefs and the issues teenagers were having with drugs and alcohol.